The Japanese invasion of the Philippines in December 1941 provided the impetus that enabled a small number of untrained, unorganized, communist rebels to become an effective guerrilla force. Although the CPP sought to expand its support base in Luzon before the war, the Japanese invasion provided the opportunity to do this. With an invader occupying Phillippine soil, the CPP grasped the chance to continue their cause, but now as patriotic freedom fighters facing an evil and numerically superior foe.
Willing to fight the invaders but unable to secure agreement with the Quezon administration; Evangelista took to the mountains of Luzon with a small band of CPP activists. With few trained fighters and even fewer weapons, the communists established a base of operations in the vicinity of Mount Arayat and the neighboring Candaba Swamp. Protected by dense mountain jungles and vast swamps, Evangelista planned a campaign to harass the Japanese. Here he adopted the slogan, "Anti-Japanese Above All," and sought to form a united, nationalist organization that would integrate
communist and non-communist groups alike. From his Mount Arayat stronghold, Evangelista and his forces launched small but annoying forays from this base against the Japanese as they advanced across Luzon toward Bataan and Corregidor. The KPMP and the socialist Peasant and Workers' Union, who merged into a united front in 1938, were consolidated totally and placed under the overall control of Evangelista and the CPP.1
Spurned by both the Quezon government and the retreating American forces, the communist guerrillas nevertheless fought the Japanese. On 10 December 1941, CPP leaders issued a manifesto in which they vowed to support the Commonwealth and U.S. efforts to resist the Japanese and urged the people to support their united anti-Japanese front.2 Aware of his military weakness, Evangelista directed attacks against the Japanese-controlled Police Constabulary, whose mission was to suppress opposition in the countryside. His attacks, mainly raids and ambuscades, succeeded in a number of important areas. First, they allowed the accumulation of arms and ammunition, items that remained in constant shortage. Second, many individual members of the constabulary were convinced to join the guerrilla movement as an alternative to execution. Third, the raids showed the peasants that an organized resistance movement existed and kept many villages from accepting total Japanese domination. Finally, the raids intimidated the Police Constabulary. Taking casualties from an enemy who disappeared into the countryside, the
constabulary developed a great deal of resistance to venturing far afield.3
By the end of 1941, Evangelista's raids gained his forces the respect of local peasants and, as often is the case with patriotic "Robin Hoods," their fame spread rapidly. The Japanese could do very little to suppress these popular feelings and often contributed to them through their harsh, often brutal, treatment of Luzon's peasantry. Time and time again, the Kempei Tai (Japanese secret police) committed atrocities against the populace in attempts to get information about Taruc's guerrillas. Often assisted by the Makapili, the Japanese secret police spread terror across Luzon and drove many Filipinos to the CPP guerrillas. Because the CPP were the best organized and most active resistance group on Luzon during the early years of the Japanese occupation, peasants often viewed them as the most effective and visible opposition to the Japanese.4 In January 1942, Evangelista and his deputy, Abad Santos, were captured by a Japanese patrol and later put to death when they refused to call for the surrender of their guerrilla forces.5
On 29 March 1942, in a small forest clearing near the base of Mount Arayat where the provinces of Pampanga, Tarlac, and Nueva Ecija intersect, the CPP merged with Luzon's remaining socialist and peasant organizations to form the Hukbalahap, an acronym for the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon or the "Anti-Japanese Army." Following a week-long organizing conference, the newly formed Huk organization selected four of their leaders (three men and one woman) to become the Huk Military Committee. The Military Committee was at the apex of Huk structure and was
charged to direct the guerrilla campaign and to lead the revolution that would seize power after the war. Luis Taruc; a CPP leader (although considered more socialist than pure communist) and peasant-organizer from a small barrio near San Luis in Pampanga; was elected to head the committee, and became the first Huk commander, "El Supremo."6
Organized into five 100-man squadrons, the Huks embarked on their anti-Japanese campaign. They obtained much needed arms and ammunition from Philippine army stragglers in exchange for civilian clothes, from battlefields on Bataan, from police deserters, and from ambushed enemy patrols. They began to recruit new followers and to seek popular support from the local population as patriots and freedom-fighters.7 The Huk recruitment campaign progressed more slowly than Taruc expected, due in large measure to U.S. Army Forces Far East (USAFFE) guerrilla units. Most Filipinos who decided openly to oppose the Japanese recovered weapons carefully hidden in the jungles and joined the U.S. supported guerrillas in Luzon. The U.S. units already had recognition among the islands, had trained leaders and sergeants, and an organized command and logistic system. Although restrained by the American sponsored guerrilla units, the Huks nevertheless took to the field with only 500 men and even fewer weapons. Despite several setbacks at the hands of the Japanese and with less than enthusiastic support from USAFFE units, the Huk guerrillas grew in size and efficiency throughout the war, emerging at its conclusion as a well trained, highly
organized force numbering some 15,000 armed fighters and capable of threatening the post-war Philippine government.8
As 1942 progressed, the Huks made concerted attempts to increase their number of personnel and armaments. Playing on what had become almost a Filipino pasttime, "Jap sniping," the search for trained fighters soon went beyond simple recruitment on ideological grounds to include impressment and intimidation. Often, when an experienced Filipino fighter was located, he was given the choice of joining a Huk squadron or facing reprisals against himself or his family. Faced with these alternatives, many decided to join the guerrillas.9 Others voluntarily joined as news of Japanese atrocities spread across the islands. After the fall of Bataan in April and Corregidor in May 1942, Taruc directed a major effort to collect weapons for his growing force. Battlefields were scoured, private weapons were confiscated, and on more than one occasion, USAFFE arms caches hidden in Luzon's central plain were looted. By the end of the year, the Huks managed to amass 2,000 assorted small arms and a few machineguns.10
In an attempt to obtain American supplies and equipment in May 1942, Huk representatives contacted USAFFE guerrilla units, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles A. Thorpe. General MacArthur instructed Thorpe, who before the war was in charge of U.S. Army investigations into communist labor unions near Ft. Stotsenburg, to organize a united guerrilla operation to harass the Japanese. Thorpe carried out this mandate from his
base-camp west of Clark Field near Mount Pinatubo in Zambales Province.11 This initial meeting -- as recalled in later years by Colonel B. L. Anderson, an eye-witness to the event -- was less than cordial and set the tone for subsequent Huk/USAFFE relations during the war.
Anderson and three other American officers met with a Huk delegation, led by Casto Alejandrino, for three weeks in the Candaba Swamp. The Huks requested arms and munitions from USAFFE units but refused to relinquish control of their own operations to Thorpe. They were willing, even anxious, to fight the Japanese with U.S. assistance but only in line with their own ultimate objective of seizing post-war control of the Philippines. After three weeks of negotiations a draft agreement was struck and delivered by two of the U.S. officers to Colonel Thorpe. In the proposed agreement Taruc's forces would follow U.S. military direction but would maintain independent control over their political program. Although a joint headquarters would be set-up to issue battle orders and regulations, the Huks would remain free to run their own organization and recruitment efforts.12 The other two officers were to remain with the Huks as an example of American trust and goodwill until Thorpe's reply arrived. Knowing that Thorpe would not accept the proposed agreement and fearing for their lives, the two stay-behind officers escaped from the Huk camp and returned to the safety of a nearby USAFFE unit.13
Huk operations continued despite the lack of American support and, combined with USAFFE efforts, prevented the Japanese from establishing firm control over the important island of Luzon. In September 1942, the Japanese launched a major anti-Huk offensive in the area of Mount Arayat. The results from this 1942 offensive were mixed. Although the operation yielded few dead or captured Huks, it totally disrupted their internal organization.14 The September offensive taught Taruc a lesson he would long remember. If he was to maintain the guerrilla operation, he needed an effective and timely intelligence system. Following the return of the Japanese to Manila, Taruc reorganized his forces into Regional Commands (Recco) and took steps to improve his intelligence gathering ability.15 What little cooperation existed between the two guerrilla organizations fell apart in late 1942 when Colonel Thorpe was captured by the Japanese. From that time on, the two groups coexisted in an atmosphere of mutual mistrust. Of the Huk units, only one, Recco 2, located in southern Luzon and less political than the others, managed any significant degree of cooperation with the USAFFE organization.16
Ironically for the Huks, the brightest point of the campaign came from several instances of Japanese atrocities that accompanied their search and destroy operations. Civilians were tortured, intimidated, and murdered by the Japanese as they sought information on guerrilla whereabouts and members. These terror tactics produced little information but drove many recruits to Taruc. In the two months that followed, Huk strength
grew to approximately 5,000 active supporters, organized in thirty-five squadrons and support troops.17
The 100-man squadron remained the basis of Huk organization. The squadron was led by a commander, an executive officer, and an intelligence officer, and was organized into platoons and squads. Two squadrons formed a battalion and two battalions made a regiment. Regiments were organized into Military Districts based on geographic areas of responsibility. Five such districts were established: 1st District - southwest Pampanga; 2nd District - central Pampanga; 3rd District - northern Pampanga and part of Tarlac; 4th District - Nueva Ecija; and 5th District - northwest Pampanga and the rest of Tarlac. Atop this structure sat the Military Committee. Shortly after its conception in 1942, the Military Committee combined with CPP leadership to form the Huk General Headquarters (GHQ). Luis Taruc served as chairman of the GHQ, with Casto Alejandrino, a former middle-class landlord and mayor of Arayat, assisting him as vice-chairman. Political officers were placed at all levels of command to advise the commander on matters related to indoctrination and civil affairs.18
In January 1943, Huk attacks resumed against Police Constabulary garrisons and Japanese supply depots. As their tactical successes grew and the people saw them as more effective fighters, Huk strength grew again -- doubling to 10,000 by March 1943. As their strength and popularity mounted, the Huks activated additional squadrons and helped form an all-Chinese force, the Overseas Chinese 48th Detachment of the People's anti-Japanese Forces, or Wachi. This Chinese unit operated almost
exclusively in the provinces of Bulacan and Laguna and, by war's end, included six 200-man squadrons.19
The Japanese mounted another major assault on Mount Arayat in March 1943. Five thousand Japanese regulars, police, and the Makapali (Japanese sponsored Filipino terrorists) surrounded northeast Pampanga, trapping an estimated fifteen Huk squadrons and most of the Huk GHQ. After ten days the Japanese withdrew with nearly one hundred guerrilla prisoners and several members of the GHQ staff. Despite these losses and the temporary disruption of at least fourteen squadrons, most Huks managed to slip between the Japanese lines to safety.20 Turning a near rout into a moral victory, the Huks drew strength and confidence from the Japanese failure to destroy their stronghold. Following this episode, they intensified efforts to reestablish their military organization and to promote village defense forces throughout the region. These local forces provided the Huks with logistic and intelligence support and, proved invaluable to Huk operations for the duration of the war and well beyond.
Throughout 1943, Huk military organization matured and formalized in both function and structure. Reports generated at the Military Districts were systematized and increased the flow of information and supplies to Taruc's guerrilla army. Military training and education were emphasized throughout the organization. At "Stalin University" (a large, semi-permanent Huk camp in the Sierra Madres mountains) military training was accompanied by political indoctrination under the watchful eyes of veterans from the Chinese Red Army. Just one year after the
birth of the Huk movement, Taruc claimed 10,000 active supporters, approximately one-third of them armed.21
Huk military activity increased steadily through 1943 and into the following year until the organization faced a dilemma over strategy. Taruc desired to press the military attack while CPP leaders wanted to consolidate their control in central Luzon and expand the popular base. From that time until the U.S. invasion of Luzon in January 1945, anti-Japanese activity diminished although efforts to increase the area under Huk control continued. Huks continued to deny the Japanese unmolested access to the region but failed to expand their own areas to any great measure.22
Concurrent with guerrilla operations against the Japanese, Taruc and the Huk began to develop village defense forces throughout the region. These paramilitary units, called Barrio United Defense Corps (BUDC), were loose-knit local units composed of five to fifteen members. Formed ostensibly to protect the villagers, to provide law and order, to promote anti-Japanese sentiments, and to deny the enemy access to food and supplies, the corps provided bases for Huk recruitment, intelligence, and logistics support. Acting through the BUDC, Taruc established governments to run the daily activities of the villages.23
In larger villages, defense corps were organized into councils composed of "elected" officials. Besides a chairman, vice-chairman, secretary-treasurer, and chief of police, each
BUDC had separate departments to administer recruitment, intelligence, transportation, communications, education, sanitation, and agriculture. Although instructed to avoid direct conflict with the Japanese, the councils organized public efforts to limit Japanese support, sought out local traitors, and administered the law as they saw it. Communication was maintained between the BUDC and Huk General Headquarters via a system of couriers who passed information and supplies to Huk squadrons in the vicinity. A major mission established for the councils was indoctrination of the local people. This mission was accomplished through a combination of education and coercion. That is., those peasants reluctant to embody the Huk cause out of devotion, were prevented from acting against it by the threat of force. Once the BUDC were established and running, Huk cadre left the village, but maintained contact through periodic visits.24 BUDC leaders "elected" many local officials during this unsettled time, including provincial governors in Pampanga and Laguna. By establishing de facto governments, the Huks hoped to present advancing U.S. forces and the exiled Philippine government with a fait accompli by using this new power to influence subsequent national and regional elections.25
In 1944, Taruc refined Huk GHQ organization by adding subordinate departments responsible for specific functions and changed the Military Districts to Regional Commands. The new departments within the GHQ included: Training and Inspection; Maintenance and Supply; Information and Publicity; Communications; and Intelligence.26 These departments
dramatically improved the effectiveness of Huk operations. Having learned from the Japanese victories in 1942, the expanded GHQ moved frequently around Mount Arayat and in the Candaba Swamp.
Five Regional Commands (Recco) replaced the older Military Districts and assumed the following areas of responsibility: Recco 3 - Tarlac: Recco 4 - Nueva Ecija; Recco 7 - Pampanga and Bulacan; Recco 8 - central Pampanga and part of Nueva Ecija; and Recco 11 - southern Luzon. Later, Recco 4 and 8 were combined into Recco 9, with control of all of Nueva Ecija, while Recco 11 expanded into Rizal and into the Manila barrios. At the height of Huk influence in the war, these Recco controlled the activities of thirty squadrons.27
Following the reorganization, Huk activities slowed as internal differences between Taruc and CPP leaders reduced the organization's efficiency. Taruc wanted to continue military operations and, although hindered by the rift, he proceeded with a few attacks on Japanese and police garrisons. Most of his effort, however, was used to press on adjacent USAFFE areas. This developed into a low-level fight for control of central Luzon between the Huks and American sponsored units. Unlike the Huks who sought to intensify attacks during 1943-44, USAFFE units used this period to develop internal organization and to conduct training in preparation for the anticipated American invasion. As U.S. units were becoming active, they saw the decline in Huk activity as detrimental to the liberation effort and charged the
Huks with passive collaboration. . Although not supported by fact or events, these charges increased tension between the two groups.28
After the U.S. invasion in October 1944, Huk military and recruitment activity became more active. As the Japanese withdrew before American forces, Huk squadrons moved into villages and barrios declaring liberation. The fact that they engaged in very limited combat with the retreating forces or, that on the few occasions when Japanese troops reoccupied towns the Huks offered only token resistance, made little consequence to the people. That the Huks were there, establishing order amidst chaos, made the difference and gathered a great deal of local support for them.
An incident in the town of Tarlac illustrated how the Huks took advantage of the fluid situation in early 1945. On 21 January, forces from the U.S. 160th Infantry reached the almost deserted town. After clearing Tarlac of a few Japanese stragglers, the U.S. forces moved on toward Manila. Moving close on American footsteps, Huk forces occupied Tarlac and declared it liberated -- but liberated as of 19 January, two days before the American arrival. The local inhabitants did not really care who took credit for their liberation, or for that matter on what date, they only cared that the Japanese were gone. In villages outside of Tarlac the Huks received credit for the liberation and the admiration of even more peasants.29
This is not to suggest, however, that every Huk guerrilla failed to support the liberation of the Philippines. In southern Luzon, two Huk squadrons cooperated closely with the U.S. 11th Airborne Division and helped rescue American and allied prisoners
from Japanese prison-camps at Cabantuan and Los Banos. After these successful actions, members of these squadrons were detached to the U.S. 37th Infantry and served as guides and interpreters while the division drove toward Manila.
Feelings of mistrust and suspicion that developed during the war continued into liberation and laid the foundation for U.S. policy after 1945. Just six days after U.S. forces landed on Leyte in October 1944, MacArthur's headquarters, GHQ Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA), issued a report on the Huks and their political ambitions. In this report they were defined as aggressive, brutal communist bandits led by a large number of former Sakdalistas (pro-Japanese terrorists and thugs) whose objective was to establish a communist regime after the United States left the islands.30
The report continued to paint the Huks in an unflattering and biased manner. Besides being anti-American, Huks were described as indiscriminate robbers, plunderers, and killers "capable only of deceit, treachery, and arrogance in dealing with USAFFE guerrilla units." Although the report was correct in assessing them as the largest, most powerful, and best organized group in central Luzon (100,000 members and supporters), the report confused the issue by stating that the Huks were willing to accept arms and assistance from the Japanese in order to fight American units.31 Greatly exaggerated and often misleading in regard to Japanese and Sakdalista connections, it was not surprising that by 9 January 1945 (the U.S. invasion of Luzon), Huk guerrillas were seen as little better than the Japanese by American military leaders. These feelings lasted well into the postwar era and they affected U.S. policy for years to come.
Two months before "V-J" Day, in June 1945, Taruc and his armed Huk forces joined CPP political leaders to form the Democratic Alliance. They founded this political organization to legitimate communist aspirations for the postwar era through a legal political party. Looking ahead to Philippine independence in 1946, as promised by the Tydings-McDuffie Act, Taruc realized that his organization could use the political system to gain a foothold in the government -- a position from which he hoped later to seize total power.
1. Luis Taruc, Born of the People, (Bombay: People's Publishing House, LTD, 1953 , pp. 45-6; Rodney S. Azama, The Huks and the New People's Army: Comparing Two Postwar Filipino Insurgencies, (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps Command and Staff College, [26 April 1985]), p. 210; and Ismael Lapus (Colonel, AFP), "The Communist Huk Enemy," in Counter-Guerrilla Operations in the Philippines 1946-53, (Ft. Bragg, NC: U.S. Army Special Forces Center and School, 15 June 1961]), p. 13.
2. Robert R. Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency: Economic, Political, and Military Factors, (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, [1.963]), p. 22.
3. Ibid., p. 34.
4. Ibid., p. 22.
5. Lapus, "The Communist Huk Enemy," p. 13.
6. Intervie w with Luis Taruc by Bruce Nussbaum, 29 May 1974, (Ann Arbor, MI: Bentley Library, University of Michigan), p. 1; and Taruc, Born of the People, p. 51
7. Taruc interview, p. 41; and Taruc, Born of the People, p. 13.
8. Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, p. 32; and Azama, The Huk and the NPA, p. 14.
9. Luis A. Villa-Real, "Huk Hunting," Army Combat Forces Journal V (November 1954), p. 32; Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, p. 32; and Edward G. Lansdale, In the Midst of Wars, NY: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1972); pp. 6-7.
10. Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, p. 32.
11. Taruc, Born of the People, p. 56; and Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, p. 30.
12. Taruc, Born of the People, p. 56; and F. Sionil Jose, "The HUKS in Retrospect," Solidarity No. 102 (1985), p. 70.
13. A.H.Peterson, G.C. Reinhardt, and E.E. Conger, eds. Symposium on the Role of Airpower in Counterinsurgency and Unconventional Warfare: The Philippine Huk Campaign, (Santa Monica, CA: The Rand Corporation, July 1963 ), pp. 2-3.
14. Azama, The Huk and the NPA, p. 130.
15. Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, p. 34.
16. Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, p. 30.
17. Ibid.; and Taruc, Born of the People, p. 58.
18. Center for Research in Social Systems, Internal Defense Against Insurgency: Six Cases, (Washington, D.C.: The American University, [December 1966]).
19. Smith, The Hukbalaha Insurgency, p. 34; and Lapus, "The Communist Huk Enemy," p. 14 .
20. Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, p. 36.
21. Azama, The Huk and the NPA, p. 15; and Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, p. 34.
22. Historical documentation. Maj. Gen. Edward G. Lansdale, 25 April 1971, by U.S. Air Force Oral History Program, Washington, D.C.
23. Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, p. 24; and Lapus, "The Communist Huk Enemy, p. 15.
24. William J. Pomeroy, "Philippines: Hukbalahap and its Mass Base," in Guerrilla Warfare and Marxism, William J. Pomeroy, ed. (NY: International Publishers, 1969), p. 233; and Taruc, Born of the People, p. 101.
25. Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, p. 53.
26. Ibid., p. 27.
27. Ibid., p. 30; and Reginald J. Swarbrick, The Evolution of Communist Insurgency in the Philippines, (Quantico, A: Marine Corps Command and Staff College, [7 June 1983]), p. ii.
28. Smith, The Hukbalahap Insurgency, pp. 39 and 46.
29. Ibid., p. 51.
30. Ibid., p. 47.
31. Ibid., p. 48.
page created 14 February 2002
Return to the Table of Contents
Return to CMH Online